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technical note: specifying steel

Is your steel
tough enough?

behaviour at lower temperatures.

BS 5950-1: 2000 recognises this, and in
Tables 4 and 5 quotes maximum material thickness for each of the steel
grades against a range of temperatures. Minimum service temperatures
for the UK are also given with recommended minimums of 5C for internal
steelwork and 15C for external steelwork.
Steel strength and toughness is
related to both carbon content, and
grain size. A cost effective method of
manufacturing higher grades is simply
to add carbon. This, however, is done at
the expense of ductility and therefore
toughness, and is often compensated
for by adding micro-alloying elements
such as vanadium or niobium that
have a beneficial effect on grain size,
and improve strength and toughness.
The rate of cooling after and during
rolling controls the internal
microstructure and grain size of the
steel. A light, thin flanged UB has a
finer grain structure as a result of
cooling more quickly, compared to a
heavy thick flanged UB that cools more
slowly, thus developing a coarser grain
structure. Smaller grains give
improved strength and toughness characteristics. This relationship explains
the reasoning behind Table 9 of
BS 5950-1: 2000 that quotes decreasing values for the design stress, py,
against increasing thickness. In terms
of toughness, both of these issues are
dealt with in Tables 4 and 5 of
BS 5950-1: 2000 by limiting the
maximum material thickness used at a
given minimum temperature.

Specifying steel quality

to BS 5950-1: 2000
There is sometimes confusion about who should
specify the steel quality required for a project,
consulting engineer or fabricator? Fortunately,
The National Structural Steelwork Specification is
quite clear on this; the responsibility lies with the
frame/member designer, whoever that may be
in the contract. Walter Swann (M) Regional
Technical Manager, Corus Construction &
Industrial, explains

tandard practice in the UK is for

consultants to carry out the frame
design and fabricators to take
responsibility for the connections. The
dilemma for consultants lies in how
the fabricators will detail the connections, what processes they will use in
fabrication, and consequently in the
application of table 3 of BS 5950-1:
By considering a number of typical
connections reflecting standard UK
practice, this technical note aims to
clarify the interpretation of Table 3. A
simple tabular approach is proposed to
identify areas where special consideration needs to be given to the correct
selection of steel quality.

tion of cracks without any plastic

deformation at a stress level below the
yield stress of the material, and is
avoided by using a steel quality with
adequate notch toughness. The work
done, or energy consumed in fracturing
a specimen of standard geometry, is the
most common way of measuring toughness (i.e. the Charpy test). Toughness
therefore depends on both strength
and ductility; a steel of reasonable
strength and good ductility will be
tough, but a steel of high strength and
low ductility will be brittle.
The environment in which the steel
is to be used is a controlling factor in
deciding what steel quality is required.
Structural steels exhibit ductile behaviour at high temperatures and brittle

Correct specification of structural


BS EN 10025-2 S 355 JR

Brittle fracture

The fabrication process, by its very

nature, introduces residual stress due
to heat or cold work. When a bolt hole
is drilled or punched, or when a component is welded to a member, localised
imperfections are introduced to the
virgin steel that create stress raisers
within the material. When considering
brittle fracture, Table 3 of BS 5950-1:
2000 takes account of stress raisers

Increasing tensile stress (lower K)

Increasing fabrication content (lower K)

The example below illustrates how steel

should be specified for projects in the
UK. Stating the material Standard
BS EN 10025-2: 2004 ensures that the
steel supplied is both weldable and
ductile. Specifying S355 ensures that a
structural grade of minimum yield
strength is used, in this case 355N/mm2.
Finally, the two letters at the end indicate the Charpy impact value, or steel
quality required to prevent brittle fracture. S275 material can be supplied in
JR J0 and J2 qualities, and S355 in JR
J0 J2 and K2 qualities.

BS 5950-1 Table 3

Brittle fracture is the rapid propaga24|The Structural Engineer 1 November 2005

BS 5950-1Table 3: Factor K for type of detail, stress level and strain conditions
Type of detail or location

Components in tension
due to factored loads
Stress 0.3Ynom

Plain steel
Drilled holes or reamed holes
Flame cut edges
Punched holes (un-reamed)
Welded, generally
Welded across ends of
cover plates
Welded connections to
unstiffened flanges, see 6.7.5

Components not subject

to applied tension

Stress < 0.3Ynom


1. 5






NOTE 1 Where parts are required to withstand significant plastic deformation at the minimum service
temperature (such as crash barriers or crane stops) K should be halved.
NOTE 2 Baseplates attached to columns by nominal welds only, for the purpose of location in use and security in
transit should be classified as plain steel.
NOTE 3 Welded attachments not exceeding 150mm in length should not be classified as cover plates

technical note: specifying steel

M describes the shielding gases,

commonly a mixture of argon and
carbon dioxide, and finally
G3Si1 indicates the chemical composition of the wire electrode.

Table 1: % extra in material cost

relative to S275 JR
Steel grade % extra
S275 JR
S275 J0
S275 J2


Steel grade

% extra

S355 JR
S355 J0
S355 J2
S 355 K2


resulting from the fabrication process

along with the nature and magnitude
of the design stress by applying a
modification factor K, to the limiting
material thickness t1, taken from
Tables 4 and 5. As the nature and
degree of fabrication increases so too
does the frequency of stress raisers,
thus increasing the risk of brittle fracture and so a lower K factor applies.
Also, as the design stress changes from
compression to high tension, there is a
greater risk of brittle fracture and so
there is a corresponding decrease in
the value of K. The K factor is determined separately for web and flange,
dependant on stress level and fabrication content at the point under consideration. The steel quality is then
determined by comparing the actual
thickness of the element, t, with the
value Kt1 such that t Kt1.
As the connections are usually the
locations where most of the welding,
cutting and drilling associated with the
fabrication process will occur, it is
these areas, and in particular any work
to the flanges, that will produce the
lowest K factor and determine the
material quality required. The plain
steel description in Table 3 has the
largest K factors and essentially refers
to any parts of an element that have
not been fabricated in any way.

Should the collar match the cuffs?

It is common practice amongst UK
fabricators to standardise on the grade
of plate used for fittings, commonly
S275 JR, irrespective of the
grade/quality of the beam or column to
which it is attached. This is acceptable,
provided that the steel quality used for
the fittings complies with clause 2.4.4
in terms of limiting thickness.
Welds are dealt with in a similar
way. Most modern fabrication shops
use a gas shielded metal arc welding
process (MAG/MIG) covered by
BS EN 440, and use a standard
consumable that can be used with a
multitude of steels. The most common
weld deposit designation is BS EN 440
G 42 2 M G3Si1, and the symbols
used can be explained as follows:
G describes the welding process, in
this case gas shielded metal arc
42 indicates the minimum yield and
tensile strength and elongation (or
ductility), and is suitable for both
S275 and S355 steel grades
2 represents the impact property
characteristics (in this case 47J at
20C), and is consistent with the
test requirements of J2 material
given in Table 7 of BS 5950-1: 2000

The overriding criteria for welds as

specified in the code is, they should be
made using consumables that have a
specified minimum tensile strength,
yield strength, elongation at failure
and Charpy impact value each equivalent to or better than those specified
for the parent material. i.e. the collar
should match the cuffs!

J2 and K2, are not held in stock and

are ordered directly from the mill, and
allowance for this should be made
when considering the procurement
Cost is always important, and in
Table 1 below, an attempt has been
made to give the designer an indication
of the percentage increase in material
cost (i.e. prior to any fabrication) of
each of the grades relative to S275 JR.
This is indicative only, section prices
vary across the BS4 range and so an
average value has been taken, based
on the current Corus list price.

How much does it cost?

Change is on its way

An easy solution to the issue of subgrade selection for the designer would
simply be to specify J2 quality steel
throughout. This approach, however,
has implications both in terms of availability and cost. In very general terms,
the most common material available
directly from stock is S275 JR, and
although not as widely stocked, there
are a growing number of stockists
holding grade S355 JR. More often
than not, higher quality materials, J0,

An inspection of Tables 4 and 5 shows

that BS 5950-1: 2000 in its present
form does not permit the use of JR
quality material in an external environment, although the previous 1990
version of the code did. At present,
external steelwork must be J0 quality,
which generally can only be sourced
from the mill. This has created issues
for fabricators with supply and (therefore) programme, particularly for small
volumes in small sizes. An amendment

Example 1
Assess the K factor to be used for all components at the connection position,
and also at mid-span, for a simply supported floor beam uniformly loaded
from a floor slab, and connected to a column using a welded fin plate
connection in a braced multi-storey frame. Assume the beam has no other
welded or bolted attachments along its length.
The column is part of a braced multi-storey frame. The primary stress will
be that due to axial compression and although subject to nominal
eccentricity moments these will not usually cause stress reversal (i.e. P/A
/Z is negative, i.e. compression), so the K factor is chosen from the fourth
column of table 3, components not subject to applied tension, and as the
fin plate will be welded to the column, the detail type is welded generally.
By inspection the finplate will be stressed to greater than 0.3Ynom. Preferred
practice would see the fittings cut from plate, using a flame cutting process
with holes punched rather than drilled. The K factor for both flame cut edges and punched holes (un-reamed) is
If the centre line of the column is taken as the theoretical support for the beam, then at the connection position
the beam is subject to a small moment. If an elastic stress distribution is assumed then a small tensile stress will
exist in the web but clearly less than 0.3Ynom. It is common practice in the UK for beams to be processed on a cut
and drill line, therefore the ends of the beam will be saw cut. The K factor is selected from the drilled holes or
reamed holes category.
Now consider the floor beam at midspan, the point of maximum moment, where the stress level will be greater than
0.3Ynom. As at this point there is no fabrication to the beam, it is classified as plain steel.
No applied tension
Welded generally (flange)1:
Plain steel (web)1 :


> 0.3Ynom
Punched holes:
Flame cut:
Welded generally:

Beam end

< 0.3 Ynom

Drilled holes (web): 2

Beam at midspan
> 0.3Ynom
Plain steel (web & flange):


Plain steel (flange): 3

Example 2
Consider the beam/column in Example 1 but with an endplate connection. Mainstream fabrication would see
columns and beams being processed on a cut and drill line. Endplates will be
either flame cut from plate or cropped from flat, but in both cases holes would
be punched for plate thickness up to 20mm.
No applied tension
Drilled holes (flange)1:
Plain steel (web)1 :


> 0.3Ynom
Punched holes:
Flame cut:
Welded generally:

Beam end

< 0.3Ynom

Welded generally
(web & flange):


Note 1: This example does not consider the column detail at a splice position or
at the baseplate location, both of which may give lower K values for web and
flange. The designer should also be mindful of load conditions/locations where
stress reversal can occur thus changing the classification. Columns at a braced
bay position are a classic case.

1 November 2005 The Structural Engineer|25

technical note: specifying steel

Example 3
In assessing the material quality for a portal frame, the critical location will
most likely be at the eaves, where there is the highest bending moment,
and also the highest degree of fabrication. Unlike the multi-storey column,
the portal column is primarily subject to bending, and so columns 2 and 3
of Table 3 will apply.
> 0.3Ynom
Welded generally
(web and flange):


> 0.3Ynom


Punched holes:
Flame cut:
Welded generally:


> 0.3Ynom

Welded generally:
(web & flange)

Example 4
Assess the K factor for the bottom tension chord, and bracings, forming a welded tubular joint in a simply supported
truss. Assume that both boom and bracings are stressed to a level greater than 0.3Ynom.
Although not immediately obvious from the code, or Table 3, the top flange of the boom falls into the welded
connections to unstiffened flanges category, giving a K factor of 0.5. This will result in a drastic reduction in the
permitted material thickness allowed (and of course designers
should be mindful of that), but it is generally not an issue as SHS
from Corus is supplied in one quality only, J2.
Bottom Chord (SHS)
> 0.3Ynom

Bracings (SHS)
> 0.3Ynom
Welded generally:
(web & flange)

Welded connections to
unstiffened flanges (flange): 0.5
Plain steel (webs):


Example 5
As Example 4 but with the SHS bottom boom substituted for a UC. As for the flange of the SHS above, the flange of
the UC in this case falls into the welded connections to unstiffened
flanges category with a K factor of 0.5. This condition will certainly
dictate the material quality required for the UC bottom chord.
Bottom Chord
> 0.3Ynom
Welded connections to
unstiffened flanges (flange):
Plain steel (web):


Bracings (SHS)
> 0.3Ynom
Welded generally:
(web & flange)


to Tables 4 and 5 of the code is

currently being processed, and will
allow the use of JR material in small
thicknesses in an external environment. In advance of the amendment
being officially published, the British
Constructional Steelwork Association
(BCSA) has issued guidelines to fabricators in their All Members
Memorandum 120/04.

The examples given in the panels illustrate how Table 3 is applied, by considering some typical industry standard
connections, and making some broad
assumptions about the level of stress
in the members. The examples are
concerned only with determining the K
factor, and are thus independent of
environment (i.e. internal or external).
Although not included in the examples,
to complete the process and select an

appropriate steel quality for each

member/component, the minimum K
factor is applied to the thickness t1
corresponding to the minimum service
temperature from Tables 4 and 5 of
BS 5950-1: 2000, and compared with
the appropriate element thickness of
the member/component.

Is it a real problem?
Using the simple criteria below, and
some rationalisation, and then applying this to the Corus range of UBs and
UCs, it is possible to identify when
greater attention in selecting a subgrade other than the minimum, JR, is
required. JR material is readily available from stock and from the mills, it is
also the lowest priced sub-grade and so
for maximum economy and availability
JR quality material should be specified
wherever possible.
Use Tables 4 and 5 from BS 5950-1:

Table X: Internal steelwork range of sections where the flange thickness of the
member is equal to or less than Kt1 (T Kt1 )
Internal steelwork (T = 5C)
BS EN 10025-2 S275 JR
BS EN 10025-2 S355 JR
(Maximum element thickness
at K = 1 is 36mm)

(Maximum element thickness

at K = 1 is 25mm)



914 419 343 & below

610 305 179 & below



356 406 551 & below

356 406 393 & below

26|The Structural Engineer 1 November 2005

2000 modified in accordance with

BCSA All Member Memorandum No
Use the welded generally category.
This will cover the large majority of
connection details adopted on a
typical steel framed building.
Where members are in bending or
tension assume the stress level is
greater than 0.3Ynom.
Use two K values:
K = 1 applied to UBs. Universal
beams will often, but not exclusively,
be used for members where the
primary stress is bending or tension.
Should a UB be subject to compression throughout its entire crosssection then a higher K factor will
apply, and the sections and subgrades suggested below will be
K = 2 applied to UCs. Universal
columns are most often used for
members subject to compression
throughout (i.e. columns). Should a
UC be subject to bending or tension
such that a tensile stress exists
over part or all of the cross-section
then a lower K factor will apply,
and the sections and sub-grades
suggested below will be unconservative.
Assume that the fabrication will be
to the thickest element of the
member, the flange, and apply the
resulting limiting thickness to this.

In the case of internal steelwork this

exercise is summarised in Table X
which shows the range of sections
where the flange thickness of the
member is equal to or less than Kt1 (T
Kt1 ).
A similar exercise can be repeated
for external steelwork in Table Y.
For section sizes outside of the
ranges shown in these tables, consideration should be given to the connection
detail to determine if the K value
applies to the web or if a higher K
value is allowed. Alternatively higher
quality steel can be specified, but to
maintain economy this should only be
used for those sections that need it and
should not be applied carte blanche
for every section on a job.

Hollow sections
In terms of material quality, SHS are a
special case. Corus only roll one grade
and one quality with the brand name
Celsius which can be specified as
BS EN 10210 S355 J2H
Table 5 of BS 5950-1 allows a
maximum thickness of 55mm at K = 1
for external steelwork. The normal
range rolled by Corus has a maximum
wall thickness of 20mm, so even in the
case of welded tubular joints where a
K factor of 0.5 applies, the standard

technical note: specifying steel

Table Y: External steelwork range of sections where the flange thickness of the
member is equal to or less than Kt1 (T Kt1 )
External steelwork (T = 15C)
BS EN 10025-2 S275 JR

BS EN 10025-2 S355 JR

(Maximum element thickness at

K = 1 is 15mm)

(Maximum element thickness

at K = 1 is 11mm)



406 178 67 & below

except 356 171 67

254 146 37 & below



All 356 368 UCs

305 305 158 & below
except 254 254 167

254 254 107 & below

BS EN 10025-2 S275 J0

BS EN 10025-2 S355 J0

(Maximum element thickness

at K = 1 is 54mm)

(Maximum element thickness

at K = 1 is 38mm)

quickly highlights which sections

comply with the code, given the
minimum service temperature and K
factor. Readers interested should
contact the author by email:




1016 305 437 & below

1016 305 314 & below



All UCs

356 406 551 & below

quality rolled by Corus will be suitable.

It is important both technically and
economically to correctly specify the
appropriate steel sub-grade for a
project. A degree of rationalisation may
be required, but economy should be
borne in mind if a 10m long 1016
305 UB 487 needs to be J2 quality,
dont specify J2 for the other 2000Te of
457 191 UB 67 that only need be JR!
Specifying JR quality material will
cover most if not all situations on the

majority of projects, however caution is

recommended in the following areas:
With sections at the heavy end of the
range that often have substantial
For anything other than an internal
environment (T = 5C)
Heavy UC sections used as beams or
subject to tensile stress
The author hopes that the tables will be
of use to designers in quickly assessing
whether or not steel sub-grade selection
requires special attention. A spreadsheet is available (free of charge) that

BS 5950-1: 2000 Structural use of steelwork in building Part 1: Code of practice for design Rolled and welded
BS EN 10025-2: 2004 Hot rolled products of structural steels Part 2:
Technical delivery conditions for nonalloy structural steels
BS EN 10210-1: 1994 Hot finished
structural hollow sections of non-alloy
and fine grained structural steels Part
1: Technical delivery requirements
BS EN 440: 1995 Welding consumables
Wire electrodes and deposits for gas
shielded metal arc welding of non alloy
and fine grain steels Classification
BCSA, The National Structural
Steelwork Specification for Building
Construction (4th Edition), 2002
Davison, B. and Owens, G. W. (ed),
The Steel Designers Manual (6th
Edition), Blackwell Publishing, 2003
Honeycombe, R. W. K. and Bhadeshia,
H. K. D. H., Steels Microstructure and
Properties (2nd Edition), Butterworth
Heinman, 1995

1 November 2005 The Structural Engineer|27